Managing iChat alert volumes

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Reader Luke Rein would like to rein in his iChat alerts. He writes:

Is there a way to adjust iChat’s alert volume separately from the main volume? For example, if I’m watching a movie, how can I have the movie play at full volume while iChat alerts still play audibly, but aren’t at full volume?

There’s no volume slider for iChat alerts so if you’re looking for a simple way to quickly adjust their volume, the answer is nuh-uh. However, there are other ways around this one.

The first is that you can configure iChat to alert you via quietly spoken text, using one of Apple’s Speech voices. To do so, launch iChat, open its preferences, click the Alerts tab in the Preferences window, disable the Play Sound option, and enable the Announce When Event Occurs (Leopard) or Speak Text (Tiger) option. From the Event pop-up menu choose the event you’d like a spoken alert for—Message Received, for example—disable the Play Sound option, enable the Announce/Speak option, and adjust the Speech Volume slider so the spoken text is really quiet.

In Tiger’s version of iChat you can enter a phrase you’d like iChat to say—something like “Sorry to interrupt you, but…” for example. In Leopard’s iChat this option has inexplicably disappeared. Instead, regardless of which type of event you choose, the Mac will simply speak “Test.” Weird.

Now let’s try something a little more fun.

Control-click on the iChat icon in your Applications folder and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu. In the window that appears follow this path: Contents/Resources. Within the Resources folder you’ll find, among other things, all of iChat’s audio alerts. Hold down the Option key and drag the Received Message.aiff file to the Desktop to make a copy.

Open this file in an audio editing application that allows you to adjust volume—the free Audacity will do the job. Edit the file so that it’s quieter. (In Audacity go to Effects -> Amplify, and enter a negative value to reduce volume.) Save your work as an AIFF file with the .aiff extension—Received Message Quiet.aiff, for example. (If you use Audacity, save the file as a WAV file and then manually change .wav to .aiff.) Now navigate to your user folder/Library/Sounds and copy your altered alert into this Sounds folder.

Back in iChat, return to the Alerts preference and from the Play Sound pop-up menu choose Add/Remove. In the Alerts sheet that appears you should see your altered alert sound. Click the Done button and the alert should appear as an option in the Play Sound pop-up menu. Choose it and your alert sound just got a whole lot quieter. When you’re finished with your movie, select the original, louder alert from the Play Sound pop-up menu in iChat if you want the alert at full volume.

And yes, of course this is a lot of trouble. Here are two other options.

1. Turn the system volume down and DVD Player’s volume up. The movie’s volume will be louder than iChat’s.

2. Turn iChat off when you're watching a movie, for crying out loud. Old fashioned as it may sound, it’s perfectly okay to concentrate on one task at a time.

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